Hunting for Healthy
Dog owners are seeking out supplements and remedies formulated to maximize their pets’ vitality and treat minor issues, which is great news for retailers stocking these items.

Supplements and remedies intended for us two-footed creatures have caught fire. In fact, during the recession, unlike other consumer categories, these items actually realized sales increases as people sought to maintain good health, self-treat minor issues and avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office. Demand for these products has remained strong, even as the economy is improving.

Much of the growth in supplements is sparked by the realization that our diets alone—especially considering the highly processed, nutritionally deficient foods we eat—aren’t typically sufficient for achieving optimal wellness. People are also turning to supplements to address—or avoid—specific issues related to joint, heart or eye health, for example. Increasingly folks are also reaching for over-the-counter remedies, particularly those seeking more natural alternatives to skin irritations, ear infections and so on.

These same trends are playing out in the pet industry, says Dr. Chris Bessent, DMV, president/founder of Herbsmith, Inc., a Hartland, Wis.-based manufacturer of herbal supplements for dogs and cats. And, she explains, they’re happening for the same reasons—a need to supplement diets, reduce the number of vet visits, maintain health and wellness, address specific issues and cut down on the use of pharmaceuticals.

Canine Concerns
Many of the same afflictions affecting people are also impacting pets, canines in particular. Simple aging is a big one, and one that has become more pressing as dogs’ place in the home has evolved, says Oscar Tenorio, research and development director for Vetimed, Inc. Located in Weston, Fla., the company manufactures supplements for dogs and cats under the PureLife 4 Pets brand.

“Years ago, dogs were guardian or working dogs; now they’ve become partners and companions,” he explains. “They’re living more inside and so they’re living longer. The population of senior pets has increased, and with this comes all of the deficiencies associated with aging.” This is one reason why the joint-support category is probably one of the biggest, especially for elderly dogs, Tenorio adds.

Allergies are also giving dogs fits, and they seem to be on the rise, says Deborah Brown, vice president of advertising and marketing for Pet King Brands, Inc. Headquartered in Westmont, Ill., the company is the exclusive distributor of the Pet King Brand topical dermatology remedies and oral care products.

“Humans present allergies through their respiratory tract, whereas animals tend to present them through external dermatological issues,” says Brown. “This weakens their immune systems and then they tend to get ear infections, hot spots, yeast overgrowth and other issues. We can’t treat an allergy, but we can alleviate the symptoms.”

Dental issues are popping up with greater frequency, making the dental category another top-selling segment, says Susan Weiss, president of Ark Naturals Products for Pets, located in Naples, Fla. Ark Naturals specializes in a variety of all-natural products for companion animals. Dental care items also benefit from owners’ reluctance to have their dogs’ teeth professionally cleaned, which generally requires anesthesia.   

Finally, just like humans, dogs are struggling with weight issues, says Jolee Molitor, marketing director for Wapiti Labs, Inc., a Ham Lake, Minn.-based producer of all-natural supplements for dogs and cats. She says an estimated 60 million dogs and cats in the U.S. are either overweight or obese, resulting in a steady climb of obesity-related problems like diabetes and joint issues, even cancer and heart disease. The culprit? Too many pets are eating low-nutrient, highly processed foods (often in the form of table scraps) she says. 

Meeting the Need
Even when dogs are eating the best possible food, supplements still have a place, says Harald Fisker, president of Grizzly Pet Products, LLC, a Woodinville, Wash., manufacturer of nutritional supplements and treats for dogs and cats. Take omega-3 for example; it’s good for supporting healthy skin and coat. As Fisker explains, omega-3 is a very sensitive nutrient that is not easily incorporated into dry kibble, and meat-based raw foods are inherently lacking in omega-3.

This illustrates one of the key factors behind successfully selling supplements and remedies—knowledge. Although manufacturers emphasize that getting up to speed on which products address what issues, and how they work, is not unduly challenging, pet retailers must do their homework. Survey the products; investigate the ingredients and their quality and levels; and learn about the companies, their brands and reputations, Bessent advises.

“Selecting the right products is more than just picking a pretty package,” she says. “But once you become educated, it’s much easier.”

Bessent looks for retailers who can act as “wellness consultants,” which she says more and more are doing to their decided advantage.

“These stores have a competitive edge over big box stores because they’re providing a service and knowledge that’s so needed,” she explains. “Taking a consultative approach gives you credibility, and creates trust and loyalty.”

David Grover, owner of Pure Ocean Botanicals in Petaluma, Calif., agrees with both the strategy and its benefits. His company manufactures seaweed/kelp-based supplements and nutritional treats, primarily for dogs. Although more people are becoming aware of the health benefits of kelp for themselves and their pets, a bit of educating is nevertheless required, he says.

“For a lot of pet owners, it’s the retailer that provides most of the knowledge they need,” Grover says. “Selling supplements (and remedies) requires understanding the needs of the pet and the issues the owner is trying to address. Retailers also need to be able to explain and discuss all of this with customers.”

Accordingly, supplement and remedy manufacturers strive to give retailers good support. Some examples include:

• Herbsmith holds educational webinars for retailers and consumers, and provides in-store training and events.

• Vetimed does in-store demos and education.

• Pet King Brands offers educational floor and counter displays.

• Pure Ocean offers tasting samples and staff education.

• Grizzly spreads product knowledge at large consumer shows  and provides retailers with monthly specials.

• Wapiti offers video training, training sessions and interactive  phone calls.

• Ark Naturals provides training, samples and marketing expertise.

Maximizing Sales
Weiss says it’s up to retailers to take advantage of what manufacturers offer, and she is puzzled by how many retailers fail to do so, thus preventing them from “putting their best face forward.” It’s a failing impacting not just the store’s sales but also the manufacturers’ as well.

“Independent pet retailers should be copying stores like Whole Foods—for example, resetting their shelves and moving products to the front of the store to get attention,” she says. “Have your sales team talk about the products. Work on a thematic calendar and set the store around this.”

And question your customers, says Fisker. Some conversation-starters he suggests include:

• What is the issue and what are the symptoms?

• Is this a persistent issue, and if so, for how long?

• If it’s a new issue, what’s changed? For example, did you change food? What do you feed your dog?

• Do you have a recommendation for certain products from a vet or from dog owners with similar issues?

• Do you already use supplements, and if so, what one(s)?

Also, don’t hesitate to contact manufacturers or reps with questions, says Molitor. “That’s what we’re here for—we want you to be successful and our products to benefit your customers and their pets.”

Finally, mix it up. “Don’t let the shelves go stale, offering the same products year after year,” Grover says. “The most successful and innovative retailers make sure to offer a number of new and unique products on a regular basis.”